Vettel… Wins Alonso… Brilliant The Championship… Over
We are now two races into the second half of the season. Monza was this past weekend and as the title of this post suggests, I don’t think anyone who is not wearing a white jacket with funny sleeves that can be tied together in the back will disagree. The 2013 Formula 1 Drivers Championship is all but a formality now. What started as a year of such promise and excitement has now become one of just going through the motions as we say goodbye to the V-8 Formula and Red Bull seals their domination of this era (even though I think an era lasts a little bit longer than four years).
Not that Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel won’t dominate in the new turbo era, but lets not even think about that just yet. Let’s hold out some hope that somehow someone, some knight in silver, red or super silver armor will get it right and at least on balance have a car and driver that can really go toe to toe with the Red Bull/Vettel combination.
By the way, if I throw in the towel that is really saying something. I’m the guy that never gives up hope. Let me paint you a picture. I could be stuck in a ditch that is filling with quicksand with my feet tied together and the sun about to go supernova. Yet this would be just about the right time and place for me to make some grand statement about how I will pull a MacGyver, rescue the girl from the clutches of the bad guys and then somehow beyond all physical reality reverse the sun’s demise and credit it another billion years so I could ride into the sunset with the girl and live happily ever after.
This however does not look like how the story will end this season for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and me, or for that matter, Kimi Raikkonen or Lewis Hamilton. After witnessing just how strong the Red Bull was this past weekend at Monza. where Vettel has had mixed results in the past, I am finally seeing the writing on the wall and it does not read well for the rest of the field and especially for my guy in the red overalls.
Alonso said that only a miracle will help him and Ferrari overhaul the points difference which is now fifty-three, but considering the circuits that are coming up I would not bet against Vettel and Red Bull even if I was in charge of miracles. Just to give you an idea how in control the Red Bull driver is at this point, Vettel could skip the next two meetings and even if Alonso was to win both (and that is by no means a good presumption) Vettel would still be ahead by three points. It is true that last year at about this same time two DNF’s was exactly what befell Alonso to put Vettel back in the game but I would not count on history repeating itself regardless of the old adage.
Monza is always a pretty straightforward race. Every team brings a one-off package and by Saturday’s free practice it is (like most weekends) no real secret which team has the faster car. Sometimes a race can yield a surprising result from Saturday to Sunday but with Monza there are rarely surprises. For this race, the fast car all day Saturday was the RB9 by 3/10’s of a second and adjusted for the fifty-three laps we end up with a margin of about fifteen seconds which would have been the gap that Vettel ended up with by the race’s end over the second place Ferrari of Alonso had he not nursed the RB9 to the checkered flag.
And as has been my contention in this year of high degradation tires, despite the early season complaints of Christian Horner and Mark Webber, Saturday’s qualifying played an integral part in how the top drivers finished on Sunday. This race for all intent and purposes was over by lap ten. Yes, Alonso made it exciting with a great start and a close but perfect pass on Webber early on and then drove brilliantly the entire second stint to keep a later charge from Webber in check, but as far as excitement goes that was about it, at least for the front runners anyway.
If last year Alonso was flawless in his driving, then this year Vettel has equalled this accomplishment. I know I can sometimes become boring always saying Vettel this and Vettel that, it’s the car, Alonso is the most complete driver, blah blah blah. I do still hold that opinion, but I also admit we are witnessing a truly great driver at work. Time will either bear this out or not but currently there is just no ignoring what the Wunderkid is doing and has accomplished in the four years since joining Red Bull’s premier team.
Add to that Red Bull have made no errors this year plus Adrian Newey has hit the sweet spot in the downforce department and it is easy to see why Vettel has such a large lead in the championship. Monza will be Vettel’s sixth win of the year and with that win he has tied with Alonso for all time wins, thirty-two, (which does not make this blogger very happy, but whatever) and although this might not be a repeat of the 2011 season when Red Bull won just about everything under the sun, with seven more races to contest it is looking pretty close. Job well done Milton Keyes.
On to Fernando Alonso, did I mention he was brilliant as usual? I did. Ferrari’s slump seems to be over, but it must feel bittersweet as for the second race in a row Alonso finished second behind Vettel. As Lewis Hamilton stated in an interview with James Allen over the race weekend for 5live radio, the car is 70-80% of your competitiveness. There are limits to what can be achieved even with the most brilliant driver when your car is not up to snuff. As of right now the Ferrari is second best in the hands of Alonso. It is just that simple.
But that doesn’t mean Ferrari shouldn’t at least try to win the race or at least be ready to seize on any misstep by Red Bull, however unlikely. So can anyone explain to me why the Ferrari brain trust kept Alonso out four laps pass Vettel’s pitstop on cooked tires when it was quite clear to see, for even the most novice racing fan, that they were losing time to Vettel and Red Bull. When Vettel pitted on lap twenty-three he was five seconds ahead of Alonso and after Alonso cycled out for his first pit stop on lap twenty-seven, he rejoined ten seconds adrift. This was not due to a difference in pit stop times (Ferrari serviced him in 2.3 seconds) but to Alonso being on old tires longer.
If I could I would pull the transcript from the race and publish the commentary from Will Buxton describing this curious decision from the pit wall, he was absolutely dumbfounded. I’m sure most people that were watching this part of the race unfold were thinking the same as me, as Mr. Buxton, as any F1 follower — once you hit the crossover point with your tires, you need to pit. Period.
By contrast, as soon as Red Bull sensed it was losing ground to Alonso and Ferrari four consecutive laps, nineteen through twenty-two – for a total of almost a second and a half, they boxed immediately and took on fresh tires and carried on without much of a time penalty. This plan of action is simple, effective, and time and time again produces the desired result. Yet Ferrari ignored the obvious, again.
With Ferrari, I am either missing something or maybe I didn’t read the memo regarding the new goal of underachievement, because it seems there is a pattern of missteps and mistakes that over the last four years have cost Ferrari and Alonso race wins and at least one championship if not two.
My usual m.o. after a race is to read everything I can about the race before I put my hands on the keyboard. Nowhere have I been able to discover an explanation as to why this strategy was taken and how this could have resulted in a benefit to Alonso’s final classification.
Instead, I can only conclude that without the precious extra few seconds, Ferrari would have had a chance to push Vettel into a gearbox failure as the laps counted down. I am certain that Ferrari would have heard the critical radio transmissions to both Webber and Vettel from Red Bull engineering that exposed this vulnerability.
As Will Buxton stated during the race, if Ferrari was only five seconds behind Vettel instead of ten, would not Alonso have been able to close the gap down more effectively when the Red Bulls were experiencing this mechanical difficulty resulting in the need to short shift at the end of their gear ratios? We will never know. One point does seems quite obvious to me however, Ferrari took themselves out of contention for the win by leaving Alonso out on worn tires for the four laps before that first pit stop. End of story.
I have said this many times on this blog and to anyone who will listen: winning in Formula 1, the highest level of motor sport, is an incredibly difficult thing to do even once. To win many races at this level is even harder and to achieve what Red Bull and Vettel have done (assuming the script plays out with no crazy twists) is really Herculean. It’s really impressive, and aside from Michael and Ferrari in the 2000’s I can’t remember this ever occurring. For the record, I consider Red Bull’s feat to be more of an achievement because Michael, Ross, Jean, and Ferrari enjoyed an unfair advantage via Bridgestone that had a mini tire factory set up on the Ferrari test track at Maranello. And we all know by now how important the black things are that connect the car to the road.
So many parts of the puzzle need to be in place right to be in a position that results in a race win. So many more things need to go right to keep being in the position for multiple race wins. And of course forget “many things” and lets skip right to “everything” has to be performed right when it comes to winning championships. As of right now Red Bull and Vettel are doing everything right.
All that said, I refuse to give up hope on my guy in the red overalls, with the car that is just second best on some days and fifth best on others, with races running out, against what can only be seen as insurmountable odds, and points. Somehow I still believe he has a chance. I know its crazy, kinda like being stuck in a ditch filled with quicksand and your feet tied together but that is how it goes when you’re a crazy mixed up fan over the greatest sport on the planet. Next up Singapore and I am totally expecting Alonso to be fighting for the race win. No really I am…
-jp- (and hey, why does this jacket have no sleeves? )